INDIANAPOLIS — Like his teammate Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt’s final Brickyard 400 as a Cup Series driver ended quite unceremoniously.
Junior’s car was severely wounded after he hit Trevor Bayne following a restart on lap 77 in the second stage of Sunday’s race after the field bogged down ahead of him. The contact didn’t seem like too much. But it knocked the radiator askew and ended Junior’s day because his car was apparently missing a front bumper bar from earlier contact.
“There were just a bunch of cars slowing down and stopping and it was a chain reaction and we got into the back of [Bayne] and I guess they were all kind of running into each other and it just knocked the radiator out of it,” Junior said. “We hit [Brad Keselowski] earlier in the race kind of doing the same thing and it damaged the front end and I think it knocked the bumper bar out of it then, so we really had no protection after that.”
The field stacked up off the restart because the cars at the front of the field were on a different pit strategy. Many cars, including Junior, had pitted with just over 40 laps to go in the second stage in a strategy attempt to steal some stage points.
A majority of those cars then stayed out when JJ Yeley hit the wall to cause a caution. Junior could have been with them at the front of the field, but he hit pit road again with the cars that hadn’t previously pitted. And subsequently was buried in traffic.
Assuming he doesn’t come back and make a substitute start — like Gordon did for Junior in 2016 — Junior ends his Indianapolis career with five top-10 finishes in 17 career starts. His best finish came in 2012, when he finished fourth.
Junior said Saturday that he thought of all the history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway while driving down the backstretch during practice.
If you could go back in time and just experience everything that’s happened here, it’s so overwhelming to think about,” Junior said. “So, I’ll miss that, you know? I don’t know how you explain it or put that into words, but the feeling that you get when you walk in here is such a special place, it’s hard to put it into words.”
“There’s not a lot of tracks that give me that feeling. Daytona, maybe. I’m so proud of Daytona and it means so much to me. What happened here is a little bit bigger as far as what’s happened here in the last hundred years. It’s a little bit bigger than all of us. And so, it never gets old coming here because of that. I’d like to be able to come here after my retirement, especially for the Indy race. I’ve never been to the Indy 500, obviously, so that would be a great experience.”
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